In this interpreter profile, Patrick Lehner discusses his experiences, how remote simultaneous interpreting has helped win new, smaller clients, before expanding on his career challenges and thoughts on where the interpreting industry is heading.
Patrick, can you tell us a bit about your business and areas of expertise?
I have been working since 1982 as deputy or managing director in different institutions, among which an international organisation where I was in charge of the translation, publications, databases and printing activities.
My education was in Business Management and I follow a further education program every 10 years or so. I have a Ph.D. in Human Resource Management, was accepted in the second half of a Bachelor in Translation and nearly finished a Bachelor’s in Theology, but over the time, it was increasingly difficult to manage that and other activities at the same time.
At court, there is a direct implication with the parties that are present... people express themselves in very different ways, using different wordings other than those we are used to, sometimes with accents difficult to understand.
I'm specialised in business management generally, though am concentrated on legal, IT, HRM and accounting functions. For industries, I concentrate on IT, construction, leisure, theology and international organisations.
As someone with a court interpreter certificate, can you tell us about what makes this setting particularly challenging? Does it ever get emotional, for example?
At court, there is a direct implication with the parties that are present. It is not like in a conference where people just listen, here, we have a lively interaction between the accused person, the lawyers, the judges, and so on. People express themselves in very different ways, using different wordings other than those we are used to, sometimes with accents difficult to understand.
Other people do not hesitate to interrupt us and correct things the way they understood it because something is a stake there. It is about pure improvisation.
You have been in the industry for some time. How have you seen things develop? Where is the profession heading?
In a professional world which continues to accelerate, things happen quickly, and the level of quality for services is at risk of decreasing. We are getting closer to machine translations, especially for written documents. Computers have made a lot of progress there thanks to AI, and this progress will continue. But for interpretation, it is different. The future of interpretation remains bright, even though the way of working is changing.
The reality is that interpretation is 1% preparation and 99% improvisation.
What were the most significant challenges when starting your own business?
First, it was to be connected to customers, I always had a Mac (since 1984!) and customers a PC, so that texts were modified during the data transfer (ASCII tables were not the same in the OS). We had to find solutions. Then diskettes were used, but it took days for the Post to send them, so that deadlines were short. Then came email (for me as early as 1992!). On the other hand, the industry started to move from craftsmanship to bigger companies, with a lot of in-house translators. It was difficult to find the right market for a freelancer: small and medium companies did not trust us, too small, too limited, their needs were not very large while big players were working with bigger agencies, not with single-person-companies. It is still the case today.
Has remote simultaneous interpreting been competing with or complementing your business?
For me, it has opened broad new markets for smaller companies, or for events at which interpreting was not an absolutely necessary in the past. Small customers do not have large budgets, and the fact of not charging traveling costs and accommodation costs has helped customers move to remote interpreting.
Minorities in Switzerland (French and Italian speaking) had to find solutions for ages to communicate with the German majority. They are now better served with remote interpreting because it comes as an easy and affordable solution. People can use their smartphones, so that there is a quick access to the technology. Plus, as English is expanding, more and more customers address larger audiences in this language, even when the speakers are German mother-tongue. This means that there is a wider need for translations, also for German speaking populations!
What has been your worst interpreting experience (eg technology not working, problem with a booth, missed flights, etc)?
I've had problems with lawyers interrupting me while I was speaking to say how bad I was, even while my sentence was not finished. I've since reduced my translation activity for prosecutors as I am tired of justifying myself all the time for a word I have chosen. Otherwise, nearly every day, we are awaiting for documents for a conference that never arrive or sometimes too late. The reality is that interpretation is 1% preparation and 99% improvisation...
Can you tell us little about your history with Interprefy and the live contract with UBS?
The first time I met Kim Ludvigsen was for a test with Credit Suisse. For UBS, we had a very interesting interaction with over 1,000 people listening (so we were told). I was in Zurich in some UBS building, but it was not remote, I was in an interpreter's booth. But it was a live transmission in all the subsidiaries while the new German Retail Banking CEO made his first presentation. People could ask also questions in live mode.
On a scale of 1 – 5 how would you rate Interprefy? (1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest).
5, of course. The team is always very friendly, every experience is nice with them, where ever they are located. The platform is easy to use. I am happy for Interprefy's success. They deserve it!
In a professional world which continues to accelerate, things happen quickly, and the level of quality for services is at risk of decreasing... but for interpretation, it is different. The future of interpretation remains bright, even though the way of working is changing.